Halby's Morsels

Halby’s Morsels: Ernie Harwell remembers the odor of the Old Polo Grounds; The Turner NBA Quartet


Polo Grounds – Urinating in a paper cup

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Mild and modest, Ernie Harwell is best known for his decades in Detroit, starting in 1960. A Southerner, he started in the minors with the Atlanta Crackers. The Dodgers heard good things about him and in 1948, Crackers’ owner Earl Mann traded Harwell to Brooklyn for catcher Cliff Dapper. Harwell was what The Dodgers needed, a third announcer. Red Barber was the principal play-by-player and assistant Connie Desmond.

Radio was still prominent after the war so most clubs recreated road games to keep costs down. Dodgers’ voice Red Barber never wanted to travel so Brooklyn was the last of the three New York teams to take their wares on trains and eventually planes. In 1946, the Yankees hired Mel Allen and put him with Russ Hodges and him them on the road. Television started coming into place too.

By 1948, the New York Giants started traveling too. But in Brooklyn, Barber was still reluctant to do so. While Red can be stubborn, he eventually acquiesced. In July, when Idlewild Airport, now Kennedy, opened for business. Brooklyn started to travel, rounding it out so that all three teams had every one of their games on its own station, home and away. The Yankees were on WINS, the Giants on WMCA and the Dodgers on WMGM.

In July 1948, the Dodgers’ Barber and sidekick Connie Desmond traveled as team broadcast partners for the club for the first time ever. They were headed for Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Barber fell ill on its last leg of the trip, Pittsburgh. It’s when Harwell was brought up.

ernie harwell

After a short period in Brooklyn dealing with taskmaster Red, Ernie had enough. Quite conveniently, the Giants’ number two job also opened in 1950. Ernie and Russ Hodges then became a duo in the Polo Grounds from 1950 through 1953. In 1954 he moved to Baltimore and for glorious decades in Detroit where he became an icon. (Harwell, left)

The announcers were also faced with a tight facility. One of the stories Harwell tells about the decrepit and cramped Polo Grounds is it had no restroom. “To alleviate our relief problems, we would urinate into paper cups and then place them on the floor inside the booth.” Harwell shared.

He shared this smelly story. “One day, a visitor to the booth kicked over a cup.” You can imagine. The amber fluid dripping slowly through the plank boards and down into those expensive box seats of the wealthy patrons, just below where Ernie and Russ Hodges called the game.

Ernie continued: “The head usher appeared in the booth, and told us, ‘We’re getting complaints from those people in the box seats. They said, you announcers need to quit spilling beer on ’em.” Ernie immediately told the usher, “If it’s beer, it’s used beer.'”

NBA notes

  • Turner’s quartet on the screen invariably puts a smile on viewers’ faces. Ernie Johnson Jr. lets his three partners roam freely but still holds a leash. This week, Shaq, the prankster set up Kenny for the fall and perfectly so. He somehow locked Kenny Smith’s chair on the set and then initiated the race to the screen. He won in a runaway, certainly worth a laugh and the only way Shaq could win.
  • I’m no big fan of Doris Burke, yet she’s getting better, particularly anticipating what to look for on the next play.
  • Charles Barkley wanted attention in the Turner Studio to make a brief sermon why Sacramento would knock off the Warriors Game #7!
  • Good commentary instincts: Jimmy Jackson and play-by-player Brian Anderson.
  • Ian Eagle, intentionally or not, referenced the Knicks more than just several times as, “New York.” Like Marv Albert, Mike Tirico, Mike Breen, Bob Costas, Dick Stockton and others grew up with the Knicks. it’s good to separate yourself when calling the team’s game . But late in the the game he slipped. At the end of the day, I’m being a bit picky. The great Mets’ radio voice, the late Bob Murphy, would sometimes say, “New York behind?”



David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Michael Green
1 year ago

Harwell’s story reminds me that, if my memory serves, at Riverfront Stadium, at one point the visiting TV and radio booths were on different levels. When it was just Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett, you sometimes could tell they had been running between innings to switch. When Ross Porter joined them, once or twice Jerry would call the first pitch or two in the 4th until Vin could get settled after coming over from TV. I also recall Lindsey Nelson saying the Mets booths at the Polo Grounds were at the end of the press box, and they could barely… Read more »